An Innovative Afternoon with Steve Wozniak

By Claire Miranda, who recognises that Good Paper is the right place to be at the right time.

Steve Wozniak, who co-founded Apple with Steve Jobs in 1976, shares his thoughts on innovation, creativity, and exploration as education in a talk sponsored by Next U® latest initiative by NTUC LearningHub.

Steve Wozniak speaks with a vivacity rooted in a life long passion for education and engineering. He talks often about the things he did at age ten, when he first told his father he wanted to be an engineer and a teacher, and build things that were smaller, faster, better. He imagined a computer that could run on simple logic, and built one that could play tic-tac-toe. Without manuals or how-to books, Steve used everyday items and advice from his engineer father to bring his idea to light. “It was an integral step to building what would be the Apple computer,” he says. At the time, Steve was only eleven. This unbridled curiosity and relentless passion to create beautiful things were to make Steve one of the most highly esteemed innovators of the 21st century.

Growing up, Steve won math awards, but was never a very social child. Innovation, he says, means being independent and not caring what others think. “It’s what I like to do. I don’t need to do what others are doing,” Steve explains. And herein lies the very spirit of innovation and creativity.

In a talk peppered with stories of childhood exploration, encouragement of his own children, and iconic references to Pong, Atari, and Breakout, the affable “other Steve” of Apple, nicknamed “Woz”, offered these unique insights for fostering innovation and creativity every day of our lives.

#1—Innovation starts with education, but school is not the only place to find all the answers.

“We need to teach kids to think,” says Steve, who has spent many years teaching children aged 10–13, but points out that often, innovation happens outside of school. Without manuals to guide him as he built his first computer, Steve would sneak into the college library at night, returning home with just pen and paper. “I challenged myself,” he says, “to build a computer with fewer and fewer parts.”

#2—Innovation requires inspiration and freedom to explore.

And it starts while you’re young. “When I was young, my heroes were people who could change the world, people who owned their own companies,” Steve relates. Find a hero and read all you can about him or her. Follow their example, but feel free find your own path. “When you have freedom,” Steve points out, “You begin to make things up.”

#3—Innovation requires motivation.

Most of us are motivated by rewards. For students, that reward is a good grade, and for professionals and working adults, rewards come in the form of a title and a bump in salary. All are outward signifiers of success. But Steve cautions against getting the right answers all the time. “That means you’re thinking just like everyone else,” Steve says. Instead, find your own reasons why you want to do something. “Rewards inside your head – your reasons for making a dream a reality – are worth more than a grade,” says Steve. Companies, Steve says, should encourage access to resources so employees can build something “of their own design, bearing this intrinsic value.”

#4—Innovation means saying “there may be other answers”.

Steve defines this as the key difference between learning and thinking.

“Why build things the way they’ve always been done, or the way books instruct you to?” Steve says. He points out that humans are wired to innovate, to seek solutions to problems and make things better. In fact, he says, the ideal path is to study, explore, and learn; and have the confidence to say “I don’t agree.” In turn, companies, parents, and teachers should learn to say, “That’s okay.”

#5—Innovation happens when you are open to opportunities and to the world.

“If you get an opportunity, whether deserved or not, grab it,” Steve says. When Steve was in his second year at Berkeley, Hewlett-Packard offered him a job. He didn’t have a degree. “But I knew something about electronics and building computers, and I had access to things I couldn’t access on my own.” Like the 28 one-dollar chips Steve used to build Pong. And finally, Steve was open to the ideas of a free-thinking classmate of his from high school, whose name also happened to be Steve. Without corporate funding to develop their ideas further, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs took to working in a garage, and built a company they called Apple.

“It’s not work when it’s the fun thing that you do. And you want to make it excellent; you want to make it perfect.”